Here’s another excerpt from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, from pages 36-38, in the sections entitled “What is Grace?” and “Grace in the New Testament.”

otis-redding-try-a-little-tend-290448In 1965 Joe Meek produced a would-be pop single that was sung by Bobby Rio and The Revelles and was entitled “Value for Love.” It was a great tune, but, like almost everything Joe Meek produced, it only grazed the Top Thirty. The lyrics were wildly false. The singer keeps telling the girl she should go for him because he is “good value for love.” He is “worth” her falling for him. Sure, Bobby Rio! That line never works. It never will. It is all weights and measures. Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. You can find this out for yourself by taking a simple inventory of your own happiness, or the moments of happiness you have had. They have almost always had to do with some incident of love or belatedness that has come to you from someone outside yourself when you were down. You felt ugly or sinking in confidence, and somebody complimented you, or helped you, or spoke a kind word to you. You were at the end of your rope and someone showed a little sympathy. This is the message of Otis Redding’s immortal 1962 song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” […]

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved. Speaking in terms of Christian theology, God loves the world in a kind of reverse relationship to its moral unfitness. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In the dimension of grace, one-way love is inscrutable or irrational not only because it is out of relation with any intrinsic circumstances on the part of the receiver. One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to the specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murderers and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart — his one-way love — for sinners. This is the problem with Christianity. This piece of logical and ethical incongruity and inappropriateness is the problem with Christianity.